murder heading

A Murder is Announced

Lichfield Garrick


THE British love a murder a mystery, and Agatha Christie epitomises the genre at its best.

The plays, like the novels, draw heavily for their appeal on period settings, and mores which may always have been more artistic creation, than fact.

A shocking murder, solved by a curious old lady, in well- dressed middle class settings, with secrets that will out, is the formula that works, and is one which is skilfully exploited by Middle Ground Theatre Company who have been combining a programme of classic and alternative drama since 1988 with an impressive roster of acting talent.

A Murder is Announced was written in 1950, reprising an earlier short story The Companion, and features detective stalwart Miss Marple, whose character has been reimagined contemporaneously in the hit television detective series Vera.

It was around (depending on how you count) Christie’s 50th novel. Even then, the fealty of her followers was legendary, and it was an instant success with its established, and proven, melange of ingredients. Leslie Darbon has adapted this for the stage.

At the centre of the story is a startling conceit. In the Personal Column of the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette is an advertisement: ‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, as the only intimation.’Miss Maprple and Inspector Craddock Miss Marple (Judy Cornwell) arrives to unravel the murderous consequences.

Cornwell is best known for her portrayal of Daisy in the TV sit-com Keeping Up Appearances and imbues her Miss Marple with vim, eccentricity, and warmth as she knits, spinning out her purls of wisdom, in tweed skirt and sensible shoes.

Judy Conwell as Miss Jane Marple and Tom Butcher s Inspector Craddock

Christie’s legendary legerdemain means that working out the identity of the murderer is futile, instead it is best to sit back and enjoy the well-crafted drama.

Jennifer Helps costuming is a delight complimenting a satisfyingly appointed drawing room offering luxurious comfy chintz sofas and armchairs.

Rachel Bright steals the show as Julia, looking gorgeous in elegant figure hugging dresses and with secrets to hide. But as Inspector Craddock, Tom Butcher also shines in a three-piece suit and an intellect which his ponderous mannerisms initially obscure.

It is a large cast, some twelve strong, and unusually for Christie, a comic figure in the guise of Mitzi is included, a role which Lydia Piechowiak clearly enjoyed playing as much as the audience enjoyed her performance of the role.

The story, directed by Michael Lunney, and 1977 adaptation, does veer between period charm, and uncomfortable anachronism. Full further education grants, the Police dismissed as “Gestapo”, suspicious foreigners, and “Leftie” writers, all feel like a long time ago now, but the world of Agatha Christie sets its own agenda and is part of the appeal. Runs until Saturday, 27 February and continues on national tour

Gary Longden



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